Moon Review

Sam Rockwell in Duncan Jones' Moon

Director Duncan Jones had the following conversation with himself.

Spoilers ahead.

“Okay Zowie, so you want to make a movie, eh?”

“Yes, I do.”

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“Well, what kind of movie do you want to make?”

“I don’t know.  I really like Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick.  Maybe something in the science fiction genre?”

“Alright, that’s a good start.  Why not make a movie that’s like Blade Runner meets 2001: A Space Odyssey?  Don’t forget to include an evil corporation, all science fiction movies need an evil corporation.”

“Brilliant!  I think I’ll call it Moon.”

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I doubt Moon‘s conception was quite so basic, and I’m doing Duncan Jones a disservice by boiling the creation of the film down to a conversation he had with himself.  However, if there is anything to be said of Moon, it’s that it shares many thematic elements with Scott’s Blade Runner and Kubrick’s 2001 — there also happens to be a lot of people talking to themselves in the movie.  Hard sci-fi films have always been a rarity in Hollywood, with each new film usually taking nods from its predecessor.  There are shades of 2001, Bladerunner, Solaris and even Silent Running, but Moon is very much its own film.  It takes what was great about those movies tonally and thematically and creates something new and very interesting.

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is on a three year contract mission, his duty is to oversee a Helium-3 mining operation on the Moon. Helium-3 has solved all of Earth’s energy problems, so the operation is quite vital. It’s a solo mission, Bell’s only companion for the lengthy stay is a robot named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey).  With two weeks left in his contract, Sam begins hallucinating and things get interesting from there.

Moon is very deliberate film; some would say slow, and at 97 minutes it feels longer than it is.  But the film feels long in a good way, the slow pace helps the audience better understand the plight of Sam Bell and the brutal monotony of his solo mission.  When the story takes a very unexpected turn early on the director could have amped up the pace of the film, but he doesn’t.  The methodical pacing continues and will leave the viewer scratching their head as to why the main characters aren’t as perturbed by the strange turn the story takes.

Sam Rockwell gives an amazing performance, subtle and strangely funny.  He’s basically the only human character in the film, and he carries the movie from end to end.  You get to see what his character was like at the beginning of his mission; short-tempered and impatient, and what he becomes after a 3 year stay on the moon; a contemplative pacifist.  I can’t imagine any other acting suiting this role more than Rockwell.  The only other real performance in the film is that of Kevin Spacey as Gerty the robot.  I was amazed at how much character Gerty had, when all he(it?) had to emote with were several robotic limbs and an ever changing smiley face displayed on a screen.  Spacey’s monotone delivery gives the viewer no clues as to the robot’s feelings or motive, which is quite disconcerting at times.  At first, Gerty’s HAL 9000-like dedication to the mission feels like a  frightening homage to 2001, but the viewer soon discovers the robot’s quiet affection for Rockwell’s character.  Due to his programming 2001‘s HAL unwittingly becomes a sinister entity; Gerty went that same route in the past, but the events of the film cause him go beyond his programming and develop a conscience of sorts.

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The special effects must be mentioned; it was so refreshing to see a science fiction film using practical effects again.  The moon base, the harvesters and the rovers were all actual models, built by Bill Pearson who is one of the best miniature effects guys in the business.  Pearson was also one of the chief model makers for the film Alien.  The practical effects gave everything a feeling of weight, depth and scale that is so hard to achieve using digital effects.  Jones is to be commended for his use of miniatures, it lends the film an air of realism that otherwise wouldn’t have existed.  The production design is also reminiscent of Alien, nothing in the moon base looks superflous.  Everything looks to have a function and a purpose, again lending to the plausibility of the film.  Even the moon itself looks amazing, imbued with all the “beautiful desolation” that the original Apollo astronauts described.  Clint Mansell’s eerie score suits the film perfectly.  The music is never in your face and adds a quiet tension to many scenes.  All the elements come together and make Moon a very nice film experience.  Jones made Moon for $5 million, which is damned impressive considering how great the finished product looks.

As for the digital effects in the film, they were equally impressive.  I don’t want to spoil the central twist of the film.  Suffice to say that when there are two people on screen, you’ve never seen such convincing and good looking effect.

As much as I liked Moon, I can’t shake the feeling  that someone not as familiar with hard science fiction wouldn’t get as much out of the movie as I did.  You don’t need to get the allusions to other films to enjoy Moon, but it doesn’t hurt.  A familiarity with films like Alien, 2001 and Blade Runner will make you see just how wonderful Moon is.  It’s a clever film, in that takes all those sci-fi genre conventions and uses them to great effect, without coming off as a rip-off.  Don’t see G.I. Joe, see Moon instead.  You’ll probably like it more and won’t feel like a horrible person afterward.  And if you haven’t seen all the films Moon was clearly inspired by, do yourself a favour and see those too!

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